Though Dodge canceled the 600 ES sport sedan after 1984, it didn't abandon the idea; it just substituted something better: the H-body Lancer (reviving the early-'60s compact name). This was another new Dodge similar to a new Chrysler, in this case the LeBaron GTS, but Lancer stood apart with the cross-bar grille then being adopted throughout the division (which must have confused Chrysler 300 enthusiasts) and by being offered in a more-overtly sporting ES rendition.
All that may be said of the GTS applies equally to Lancer -- except sales, which ran about a third less. One suspects the Chrysler name and its luxury aura did more for GTS than the Dodge name did for Lancer despite similar pricing. Perhaps recognizing this, the division issued a bespoilered Lancer Shelby for 1988 with the 174-bhp "Turbo II" 2.2 and racy body addenda similar to those of the earlier Pacifica and Shelby Lancer limited editions. The '89 ES was sportier, too, gaining the new 150-bhp turbo 2.5 as standard equipment. But the H-body would prove something of a short-timer and would not return for 1990.
More successful was the P-body Shadow, intended to replace the aging Omni but introduced for 1987 as an additional, more-ambitious small sedan. Dodge wanted you to think of it as a junior BMW, but it was really more junior Lancer, with the same rounded "aerosedan" styling in three- and five-door notchback body styles on the Daytona wheelbase.
K-car heritage was again evident in the Shadow chassis and drivetrains. The latter initially comprised the usual turbo and "atmospheric" 2.2-liter fours teamed with manual five-speed and automatic TorqueFlite transaxles. Unlike Plymouth with its similar Sundance, Dodge fielded enthusiast-oriented ES models with uprated suspension and a few "Euro" touches. For 1989, the corporate 2.5-liter "balancer-shaft" four was a new option for base models, and the 150-bhp turbo version was standard for ES (replacing the blown 2.2). The latter was also included in a new Daytona-style competition package for three-doors, along with handling suspension, bigger wheels and tires, "aero" body skirting, rear spoiler, and bucket seats. A minor facelift and reworked dashboards arrived for all 1990 Shadows; ES was treated to standard all-disc brakes, and its now-optional Turbo II engine was updated with a VNT blower.
Yet for all the emphasis on sport, it was the workaday Shadows that carried the sales load. And that load was considerable: over 76,000 for the first model year. Plymouth moved a like number of its Sundances.
The reason Omni didn't fade into the Shadow is that it was too good to lose. Despite relatively few changes after 1981, it averaged a remarkable 100,000 sales each year through 1983 and 58,500 or more thereafter.
The turning point was 1981, when the K-car's 2.2-liter "Trans-4" became optional for both Omni and the 024 coupe, improving acceleration and quietness with little or no loss in mileage. A smaller Peugeot-built 1.6-liter (replacing the VW 1.7 for '83) was technically standard through 1986, but almost nobody bought it. Likewise the stripped 1981 "Miser" models, which disappeared after the following year.
Sustaining the L-body line through its 1990 swan-song were an increasingly better-equipped Omni and ever-sportier coupes. The coupes began at mid-1982 with an overdecorated 2.2-liter model reviving the famous Charger name, signaling Dodge's return to interesting cars. The base 024 became a Charger for '83, and the 2.2 was joined at midyear by a dashing Shelby Charger with tuned 107-bhp engine, very stiff suspension, racy body add-ons, silver paint, and big blue stripes evocative of Carroll Shelby's late-'60s Mustang GTs. A wider choice of colors was offered for '84, and other Chargers acquired a nose job and the Shelby's cleaner rear-roof styling. The next year, the Shelby took on the blown, 146-bhp 2.2 to become the Turbo Charger.
But by 1987, a profusion of sporty Daytonas and Shadows were crowding all Chargers out of the market, so production ceased that March. The Shelby Chargers were fairly rare: about 30,000 for the five model years.
Omni, meantime, kept getting better, picking up a more-modern dashboard for '84 and additional standard features most every year. Workmanship improved too. The aging 1978 design should have been an increasing liability in the marketplace, but Chrysler took advantage of tooling costs long since amortized to keep prices down and sales up.
The company went even further for 1987 by replacing all Omnis with just one fully equipped "America" model, appealingly priced at $5799. Options were limited to reduce overhead and insure higher, more-consistent assembly quality -- another cue taken from Europe and Japan. Value-minded shoppers rushed to buy, taking more than 152,000 -- more sales than the entire Omni/Charger line had ever generated in a single year. Chrysler paid heed and put Aries/Reliant on the "America plan" before closing out the original K-cars after 1989. With that, Omni sales fast declined after '87, but the L-body hung on into model-year 1990, when the America badge was dropped and a driver-side air bag added.
For more on the all-American Dodge, see:
- Dodge New Car Reviews and Prices
- Dodge Used Car Reviews and Prices